Hi my darlings...time for a philosophical debate (no, not really. I was only trying to impress you).
I was rereading And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky a few weeks ago, when it struck me that the protagonist is a 15 y.o. girl. Just like in Deadgirl by B.C. Johnson. And both books are among my favourites.
Now, I remember that, back when I was investigating Deadgirl in order to decide if it was worth a try, the lead's age caused me to wonder if I should commit to it. I was used to 16-17 y.o. main characters - who seem to be the standard material in YA novels. They're more mature (um, maybe...), or simply close enough to 18 without actually being that age. They have a driver's licence, or are given more freedom by their parents, or are simply more resourceful when it comes to escape their supervision (well, um, one would assume). They are about to graduate and are figuring out what they want to do with their life. They're champing at the bit, defying authority and gravity - so to speak - at the same time...On the other hand, apparently, 14-15 is sort of a no-man's-land - too old to fit in the MG department, too young to be proper YA characters...or is it?
Now, I don't read MG. (Though no one will ever be able to convince me to part with my copy of Momo, which is pretty much the only book I have left from my childhood days, and which I do reread from time to time). I want to live wild, sophisticated adventures in the real world (or a world that could be real). I want to reconnect with that teen girl who still lives inside me and aches to fullfill all the crazy dreams she left hung out to dry. I want to be all the girls I never was - heck, even some of the boys - but still see a part of me reflected in each and every one of them. And for some reason, back when I started to read YA, I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to connect with the younger end of the teen spectrum. Afraid that those characters would sound too childish to me. Afraid that their stories had been toned down to fit that end and that I wouldn't have enjoyed them as much as I expected.
Like I said - a million times, or was it two million? - Deadgirl is one of my bestest book friends. The main character Lucy is fifteen when the story begins...and she will stay fifteen forever now, I guess. (You know, what with technically not being alive anymore. Unless B.C. Johnson doesn't come up with a clever idea to let her out of this mess, which I wouldn't put past him). And she might be a little too obsessed with a certain boy for me to relate (in case you wonder, I was obsessed once...only, I was 17, and I had far less strong physical reactions than the ones she gets. I so lived in my head back then), and she might not be LIKE me in a bunch of ways, but I'm rather fond of that little rascal.
Also, back when I was musing about younger-than-16 protagonists, I already had this book in my library called Eva, where the lead is thirteen. THIRTEEN. It didn't occur to me at the time. It's a weird story, but I love it...the protagonist undergoes a crazy process and her story is told in third person, but I do love her. Maybe she sounds a little more mature than the age she's supposed to be, but all in all, she doesn't sound like your average 16-17 year old female lead either. So, you see? Nothing to fear from younger kids in YA :). (Though to be honest, I've seen this book shelved both as YA and MG, but I found it in a YA collection...).
Oh, but there's more. Like The Time of the Ghost. Four sisters, from ten (?) years old onward. I'm not really sure of their ages, but at least one of them is not a teen yet. Maybe two. Regardless, I really enjoyed their story and their banter - though it took three reads to realise it, mainly because everytime I stumble on a slow book, I have to reacquire the taste for it...
(Note: like with Eva, it's unclear if this is a YA or MG book, though it is probably more complex and darker than your usual MG...but don't quote me on that. I think it walks a fine line between the two genres...).
The Point 4 duology? 0.4/Human.4 and 1.4/The Future We Left Behind? Both have a (different) fifteen year old protagonist. Well, fifteen year old and a half, but still younger than the average. Plus, they're male. And I really liked being in their shoes. The story got me going more than the characters, but still, I was confortable with them...
There's something all the books I mentioned have in common: a crazy good plot. Well, NEARLY all of them, because And Then Things Fall Apart is NOT a plot-driven book...at all. But in that case, the lead has a great voice...so believable as a young teen, but at the same time, peppered with literate references because SHE'S A READER. And all of it feels so natural. So, bottom line? (...drum roll...)...
...It's not an age thing. It's a plot thing. It's a voice thing. It's A WRITER'S SKILL THING.
Or this is the way I see it.
So, what do you think - do you actually mind your book leads' age? do you discriminate? is there a perfect age for a YA protagonist? and where does MG ends and YA begins?